I found a funny word in The Glass Castle. Where did skedaddle come from and what does it mean?

The word skedaddle has been around for at least 150 years, having been spoken as slang in the American Civil War in reference to a quick retreat, or hurried exit. These funny-sounding three syllables probably are alterations of another language, perhaps the Irish "sgedadol," which means to spill out or scatter.

Centering on the Civil War, Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage includes these passages:

"Well," continued the youth, "lots of good-a-'nough men have thought they was going to do great things before the fight, but when the time come they skedaddled."

"Oh, that's all true, I s'pose," replied the other; "but I'm not going to skedaddle. The man that bets on my running will lose his money, that's all." He nodded confidently.

And from Irish author James Joyce's controversial novel Ulysses:

Looking for trouble. Still I got to know that young Dixon who dressed that sting for me in the Mater and now he's in Holles street where Mrs Purefoy. Wheels within wheels. Police whistle in my ears still. All skedaddled. Why he fixed on me. Give me in charge. Right here it began.

In her autobiography, The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls writes, "We were always doing the skedaddle, usually in the middle of the night." Although the author's father claims his skedaddling is prompted by people who are out to harm his family, her mother says that the sudden departures are triggered by interest in avoiding bill collectors.